After many years slogging away, low-budget filmmaker Fred Olen Ray found his niche in the mid-1980’s as a director of quickies for the home video market. In the best exploitation filmmaker tradition, he grabbed this opportunity with both fists and cranked out as many flicks as he could during the prime direct-to-video era of the mid-’80s to mid-’90s. Unfortunately, filmmakers who work at top-speed often sacrifice personality and creativity to simply get their films in the can on time and on budget. Ray’s work is a prime example of these tendencies, a string of films that hit all the right exploitation flick marks but do so in the most generic, dull manner possible.
Cyclone shows both the benefits and drawbacks of Ray’s approach to b-moviemaking during this era. The plot is kind of like Streethawk if it was rewritten to fit the needs of the direct-to-video market. The heroine is Teri (Heather Thomas), a tomboyish motorcycle enthusiast who is dating Rick (Jeffrey Combs), a scientist who is secretive about his work. When Rick gets killed during a night out for the couple, Heather discovers that Rick was working on an armored motorcycle fueled by a renewable power source that could change the nature of international fuel markets.
In short order, Teri and her souped-up motorcycle hit the road as a variety of baddies give chase. For instance, the assassins who killed Rick (stuntman Dar Robinson and Ray’s then-wife Dawn Wildsmith) are still after her and willing to kill anyone who gets in the way. They work for Bosarian (Martin Landau), a shady businessman who specializes in illicit items. Further complicating things are a pair of government agents (Robert Quarry and Martine Beswicke) who claim they were working with Rick but may have their own motives. It’s inevitable that Teri will have to put her motorcycle to the test to escape this array of shady alliances.
Cyclone has a perfect setup for a fun action ride but only delivers on its b-movie promise in fits and starts. There are scenes of car-stunt action in the middle and at the end but there’s a lot of time-killing to wade through before you get to them. For instance, Ray and screenwriter Paul Garson show an unfortunate fondness for comic relief: padding includes a couple of bumbling undercover agents, Huntz Hall doing his retro pop-eyed schtick as a motorcycle shop owner and a bizarre “punk rock” performance by L.A. band Haunted Garage. These bits might have seemed amusing on the set but they really limp by on the screen.
Ray’s pacing is decent but he has a tendency to linger on less expensive scenes, so get ready for lots of chatter between the action. There’s a certain amount of fun to be had with the array of familiar faces collected here – Ray specialized in putting together oddball cult movie casts long before Rob Zombie – but no one is really given much to do and you get the sense they were all left to their own devices. Landau and Beswicke fare the best: Landau brings a hammy intensity to a stock role that keeps the viewer’s attention while Beswicke underplays her role, coming off as cool despite a really bad hairstyle. Combs is wasted in a role that doesn’t give him a venue for his quirky style and Thomas is appealing but miscast, looking lost as she attempts to act tough. There’s also a weird one-scene cameo from Troy Donahue, who seems annoyed as he acts out his brief role in a strange, distracted manner.
Ray’s direction deals this programmer the final blow. All his work seems oriented towards reaching the end credits in a competent but thoroughly bland way. As a result, the film looks professional but never takes advantage of its resources in an interesting way. Outside the two big stunt sequences, there’s no kinetic energy or inventive visuals to drive the story. To make matters worse, he doesn’t seem interested in getting consistent performances and the only time he displays personality as a director is when he displays an unfortunate love for lame comic relief moments that undercut the story.
Ultimately, Cyclone is an example of the direct-to-video b-movie at its most disposable. It’s not the worst of its kind but the sheer lack of inspiration on display makes it kind of numbing after a while.